• Team of the Weekend

Gerrard dominates midfield battle

Chris Murphy
April 14, 2014
Captain Gerrard leads Liverpool

After each round of Premier League fixtures, ESPN FC brings you its Team of the Weekend. Our panel of experts carefully selects 11 star performers, along with a manager.

Do you agree or disagree? You can have your say on those picked or overlooked in the comments section at the foot of the article or on Twitter using the hashtag #TOTW.

It's a battle of the Davids for our No. 1 jersey, the race eventually won by David Stockdale rather than Cardiff's David Marshall. Fulham needed big performances from everyone in their quintessential six-pointer against Norwich, and though they were outplayed for large swathes, Stockdale kept them in it. His save from Ricky van Wolfswinkel's volley was one of the best this season, and he followed it up with another fine stop moments later from Leroy Fer. As Paul Mariner points out, his concentration was superb. Steve Nicol agrees.

Another 1-0 home victory for Crystal Palace, and another clean sheet for Joel Ward. The defender has been a vital part of Palace's resurgence under Tony Pulis and put in another dogged display as they grabbed the victory that surely seals their place in the Premier League next season. Paul Mariner was keen for Adrian Mariappa to get the nod, and Gab Marcotti plumped for Stoke's Geoff Cameron, but I agree with Steve Nicol's assessment that Ward "gives nothing away" and at this level, that is a virtue to be cherished.

"Far from a flawless performance and probably should have given away a penalty at the end. But his goal was huge and when City ratcheted up the pressure he stood up to be counted." So says Gab Marcotti of Martin Skrtel. The Slovakian had an up-and-down afternoon, as Gab says, but did make some crucial interceptions in the second half, and his goal was just reward for Liverpool's blistering first period, as he delicately glanced Steven Gerrard's corner into the net. It is Skrtel's prowess from set-pieces that also impressed Steve Nicol.

They could have surveyed the entire country and no one would have picked Juan Cala as Cardiff's match-winner down at Southampton. With the Bluebirds seemingly out for the count in the relegation fight, they somehow conjured up only their second win on the road this season, thanks to the Spaniard's fine finish from the edge of the area. All three of our pundits agree, though Steve Nicol certainly isn't overdoing it with his verdict on Cala's prowess: "A goal and a clean sheet, I'm not sure which is more surprising."

This was far from a vintage performance from Everton but Roberto Martinez won't mind. Sunderland succeeded in dragging the Toffees down to their level at the Stadium of Light, but Leighton Baines was his usual, classy self. Testament to his assuredness is the difficulty one has recalling when he last made a significant error. Added to that solidity is an offensive threat, be it through delivery or set-pieces. A fine afternoon's work didn't go unnoticed by Gab Marcotti, who labels Baines "Mr. Consistency."

Holding midfield
It's not often you see a grown man cry at the end of a Premier League match, however tumultuous it has been. That it was a veteran like Steven Gerrard spoke volumes for how much he craves a first Premier League crown. Not only did he produce another 90 minutes that allied silk to grit, he also delivered a rousing speech to his colleagues seconds after the final whistle, reminding them the job is far from done. Gab Marcotti called his display "monstrous," Paul Mariner said he was "imperious" and Steve Nicol thinks "he'd be captain of any ship he sailed on."

Raheem Sterling produced a mature performance for Liverpool © Getty Images

Right midfield
Unsurprisingly, there are a few more Liverpool shirts in midfield after that gargantuan victory over Manchester City. First up is Raheem Sterling, who appears to be maturing before our very eyes. Deployed astutely and sporadically during the season by Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool are now reaping the rewards of his fleetness of foot. His opener was a crucial strike and inspired Gab Marcotti to celebrate his shimmy in this fashion: "That move was this sport's answer to Tim Hardaway's (or, better yet, 'Pearl' Washington's) ankle-breaking crossover."

If Liverpool do go on to lift the Premier League title come May 11, many people will point to the blow delivered by Philippe Coutinho as the pivotal moment in it. After being pegged back to 2-2, Brendan Rodgers' side were teetering, but title contenders have that unique ability to punish any weakness proffered by their opposition. And so it was the Brazilian rifled home after Vincent Kompany's uncharacteristic shank had given him a sight of goal. Gab Marcotti says this display was one in the eye for those who thought he may struggle with physical demands of the English game when playing on the side of a diamond, while Steve Nicol hailed the "technique and accuracy" of his winner.

Left midfield
He may have been on the losing side but David Silva's performance provoked universal praise from our panel. With Manchester City two down at half-time, the Spaniard "almost single-handedly dragged City back into the game," according to Paul Mariner. His finish for the first goal was representative of the quality he possesses, and he also enticed the deflection from Glen Johnson that got his side back on level terms. Only the width of a stud prevented him from grabbing as second, as he threw himself at Sergio Aguero's inviting centre. As Steve Nicol decrees, Silva "was the architect of all things good."

Given his late-season bursts of form, perhaps we should officially petition the Premier League suggesting that Fulham's striker be renamed Hu-goal Rodallega in the months of April and May. Hot on the heels of last week's winner at Aston Villa the Colombian came up trumps again in this biggest match of Fulham's season, potting a winner at Craven Cottage that could be worth far more than three points. Not only did he find the net at Norwich's end, he also stabbed one off the line late in the game. His "tireless work" impressed Paul Mariner, while Steve Nicol sums it up neatly thus: "One in the net and one off the line; now that's a difference-maker."

Our XI concludes with a forgotten man who is a little less forgotten than this time last week. It had probably slipped the mind of thousands that Demba Ba was still at Chelsea, let alone an option off the bench, but after all Jose's warbling about not having a decent striker, perhaps he just wasn't looking hard enough. As Paul Mariner points out, twice in a week the Senegalese has proved a match-winner - against PSG at Stamford Bridge and now Swansea - as Chelsea kept their title tilt on track. Ba will almost certainly be out of the door in the summer, but if he carries on like this, he may well do it as a Chelsea legend.

Steve Nicol rightly pays tribute to Felix Magath after the Fulham boss made it back-to-back victories in their win-or-bust clash with Norwich, but our Manager of the Weekend gong was never going anywhere else than into Brendan Rodgers' palms. In Liverpool's biggest Premier League match probably ever, he went all-out attack against Manchester City and was rewarded with a two-goal lead at half-time. Underlining that he's instilled character as well as class into his players, they somehow managed to conjure a winner when Manchester City were just beginning to take over the game. Paul Mariner and Gab Marcotti concur, the latter saying: "That's 41 of a possible 45 points in Liverpool's last 15 games. Reinventing on the fly, creative lineups and creative football."

Demba Ba lets fly against Swansea © PA Photos
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